Tag Archives: usa

Observations of an expat: Liking people

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People like to do business with people they like. Think about it. How many times have you returned to the same bar, restaurant, shop or café because you like the owner or the convivial waitress. You will even pay over the odds because that big smile and friendly chat with a croissant is worth the extra money. Life is just too short for decisions to be based on the saving of a few pennies.

Another much sought-after characteristic is competence. In fact, charm and competence are generally considered a winning combination. And one without the other is, well, pretty much the exact opposite.

That is why a report published this week by the Pew Research Centre is such bad news for everyone in America. It is also an object lesson for the rest of the world.

The Pew Research Centre is a Washington-based think tank that for the past two decades has conducted annual in-depth international surveys on different countries’ perceptions of the United States. Actually, the Pew people prefer the term “fact tank” which, of course, brings their reports into direct conflict with the Trump Administration who might be best described as an “alternative fact farm.”

Certainly the White House takes little comfort from this week’s Pew survey which reports that perceptions of America and its president plummeted to record lows. The President of the United States is viewed as incompetent and the country as a whole is disliked.

Twenty years ago the British people, for instance, gave the “land of opportunity” an 87 percent approval rating. Germany’s approval levels of America were at 78 percent. France, which has always had a more ambivalent attitude to the US, was a bit lower at 62 percent. At the end  of summer 2020 the approval rating of three of America’s most important allies is roughly half of what it was at the turn of the millennium– 41 percent in UK, 26 percent In Germany and 32 percent in France.

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Observations of an expat: Politics of fear and loathing

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Fear is the major political currency of America’s Republican Party. The traditionalists are frightened of socialism. They are scared of big government. They dread the thought of a diminished suburban life style.  They are panic-stricken at the thought of losing their guns that protect from the forces of both the law and lawlessness. But most of all, in an increasingly racially divided society, the long dominant White population is terrified of becoming a minority.

Republicans will deny that they are racists. But the fact is that race issues have been a dominant theme in American politics from the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619, to the genocidal elimination of Native Americans, the Civil War, segregation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Act and, finally, Trump’s wall.

They are not overly concerned with constitutional rights (except perhaps their interpretation of the Second Amendment). Enforcement of the rule of law is not at the top of agenda (except as it pertains to the protection of property). Whether or not their president is a tax-evading, misogynistic, narcissistic, racist, incompetent foul-mouthed liar is of little interest. They accept that he is a bastard. But he is their bastard. Even a global pandemic which has left more Americans dead than in any other country takes a back seat to the battle to preserve the fabled American dream.

America is a largely conservative society. Donald Trump is in the White House because he has successfully managed to persuade Americans that he is their best bet for fighting off the foreign hordes and ideas that run counter to perceived American values. In this election, the American right has gone to war; and, as in any war, the first casualty is truth.

That was obvious from the Republican Convention where speaker after speaker uttered outrageous lies in pursuit of four more years of a Trump presidency. Former Army Colonel turned anti-abortionist nun, Sister Deidre Byrne, accused Joe Biden and Kamala Harris of supporting not only late-term abortion, but infanticide as well.

Tennessee Senator Marshal Blackburn warned: “If the Democrats have their way, they would keep you locked in your homes until you become dependent on the government for everything. “

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Observations of an expat: The Thucydides Trap

Huawei, Hong Kong, Uighurs, the South China Sea, Chinese economic and military growth, “Kung Flu”, economic crisis, cyber-attacks, intellectual property theft, trade wars, sanctions, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping … are all combining to raise the spectre that the world is marching eyes wide open into the Thucydides Trap.

What, you may ask is the Thucydides Trap? It is a political/military term coined by American academic Graham Allison in 2012 to warn against the inevitability of war between China and America.

It was based on the work of the Greek historian Thucydides who explained that the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) was the result of a growing power (Athens) rising to challenge the supremacy of the established power (Sparta) to such an extent that the only possible resolution was war.

The scenario has been used to explain the causes of several conflicts throughout history including World War One (Germany challenging Britain) and World War Two in Asia (Japan challenging the US).

Not all of the contests have resulted in an exchange of blows. The Soviet challenge was successfully contained at the Cold War stage. This was partly because of the nuclear-based Mexican stand-off and partly because the Soviet system failed to develop an economic model that challenged American supremacy.

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Observations of an expat: Start talks Start

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US-Russian talks started this week in Vienna between US and Russia to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expires in February.

Negotiators face massive obstacles – for lots of reasons.

For a start, Presidents Trump and Putin are fond of their nuclear toys. They have both effectively scrapped the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty and announced significant investment in new nuclear weapons.

Both men are keen on the more “bang for the buck” theory of nuclear war.

The other big reason the talks are headed for failure is the Trump Administration’s insistence that China is included in the negotiations. China’s nuclear arsenal is miniscule (300 warheads compared to an estimated 6,185 American and 6,800 Russian). But the Americans view the Chinese as the greater medium to long-term threat to American interests.

The French and British nuclear deterrents have been accounted for in the complex alphabet soup of Soviet-American nuclear weapons accords. But France and Britain are American allies. China and Russia are – at the moment – close – but not allied. The Chinese argue that if they are included then why not also India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly even Iran. This would, of course, turn negotiations into an incomprehensible farce as each country has a different strategic reason for its nuclear deterrent.

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Observations of an expat: Coronavirus exploitation

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A pandemic is a perfect excuse for politicians to exploit public fear for their own political advantage—and many of them are doing just that.

Let’s start with Trumpland where the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic means that the country is fast heading for a world-beating 100,000-plus deaths. Trump is using coronavirus to stoke the fires of Sinophobia. China has been the US administration’s chief bogey since 2016 when advisers such as Steve Bannon were warning that a Sino-American war was inevitable. The anti-Chinese stand is also proving popular with the voters in an election year with 70 percent of the electorate critical of China.

China’s President Xi Ji-ping is just as bad. Between Beijing and Washington an increasing number of outrageous conspiracy theories have been launched by both sides. The Chinese have also used the pandemic to boost military operations in the South China Sea and is selectively dispatching its medical equipment to countries where it thinks it can establish a stronger foothold. It has also used Covid-19 to crackdown on Hong Kong dissidents and is claiming in capitals around the world that its relatively successful handling of the pandemic demonstrates the superiority of the country’s political system. The latter claim is a leaky bucket as increasing doubt is poured on Beijing’s death statistics.

One of the most blatant pandemic power grabs is in Hungary. President Viktor Orban has managed to persuade his parliament that the danger of the pandemic means he should rule by decree for an unlimited period. As a result, the already sycophantic press has been further muzzled and public protests have been banned and in some cases criminalised.

In Turkey, President Erdogan, released thousands of prisoners from jail—except the political prisoners. He has also blocked fundraising efforts by opposition city councils in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

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Observations of an expat: American guinea pigs

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Thank you America for volunteering your citizens as coronavirus guinea pigs. To be more specific, thank you President Trump and the governors of Florida, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Minnesota, Vermont, Ohio, Idaho, North Dakota, Montana, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

They have decided that the first duty of government is the protection of the almighty dollar rather than the protection of human life. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, has gone further and proposed that elderly Americans should offer to die to protect the economy.

Because public health and safety is the responsibility of state governments, anti-lockdown measures vary from state to state. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been the hardest hit and are trying to ease back towards normality with a suck and see approach.

Georgia is more dramatic. The Governor still advocates social distancing but is reopening restaurants, hair salons, bowling alleys and — my personal favourite — cinemas. Just how hormonal teenagers will manage back row gropes while sitting six feet apart is a mystery waiting to be solved.

South Carolina is reopening its beaches and non-essential retail outlets and Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee has more or less said to hell with it and opened everything.

Meanwhile the anti-lockdown protests continue, spurred on by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity dubbing coronavirus a “pandumbic.” The first and biggest demonstration was in Wisconsin. An estimated 2,500 people, many of them wielding guns and pro-Trump banners, gathered outside the governor’s mansion in Lansing. The Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, had angered them by imposing a strict state-wide lockdown.  On Thursday it was announced that seven of the demonstrators had been diagnosed with coronavirus.

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Was the diplomatic leak part of a plot to make Nigel Farage UK ambassador to the US?


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There was a very interesting discussion on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, last night, concerning the leaking of memos from the UK ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch.

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Book review: The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman, the bomb and the four months that changed the world


While in Washington DC, I made a pilgrimage to the large “Prose and Politics” bookstore in Connecticut Avenue NW. As one would expect, it was bursting with political books. I would have quite happily walked away with an entire wheelbarrow load of books, if my airline baggage weight limit had allowed it. In the end, I bought one paperback, which was “The Accidental President” by A.J.Baime about Harry S. Truman’s first four months as President in 1945. I was not disappointed. It is a brilliant book – a real page turner. By coincidence, Harry Truman lived with his family from 1941 until 1945 (including for the first few days of his Presidency) at 4701 Connecticut Avenue, which I passed on my way to the bookshop.

Harry Truman took over as US President in the most extraordinary circumstances. A.J.Baime quotes a Boston Globe reporter who wrote that Truman’s elevation to Vice Presidential candidate in 1944 was “one of the most amazing stories in American democracy”, adding:

It is the story of an average man, swept to dizzy heights against his will, a little bewildered by it all and doubting whether it is really true.

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US District of Columbia – taxation without representation


I’m just back from a nerd’s tour of Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. I was fortunate to fit in about 20 visits to notable locations, mainly political. The highlight was numerous visits to the US Capitol, so much so that the police started saying “Welcome back” to me at the security check-in! In particular, I witnessed a vote in the House of Representatives, complete with a sighting of Nancy Pelosi. By the way, there is something quite spooky, but also quite thrilling, about being the only member of the public left in the huge, cavernous, marble-clad US Capitol late at night.

During my visit, one thing which became strikingly apparent to me is the outrageous democratic deficit of the people of the District of Columbia (DC).

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Puzzling and concerning events in the USA which mark, perhaps, a watershed

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One has to ask what has been achieved by the longest partial government shut-down in US history. Thousands of devoted federal workers had a grim Christmas and January, many of them resorting to food-banks and second jobs.

And now it is over – Donald Trump has hoisted the white flag. His stalwart supporter Lou Dobbs observed that Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, “has just whipped the president of the United States”.

It has all been complete madness. The video below shows Senator Michael Bennet (Democrat – Colorado) making perhaps the most passionate speech I have ever seen. It is worth listening to at least the first ten minutes. It perfectly captures the insanity of the Donald Trump’s shutdown. It is such a brilliant speech that the video has now had more than 11 million hits and is the most watched congressional speech in the entire 40 year history of C-Span!

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Book review: “Fear” by Bob Woodward


“Fear” by Bob Woodward traces Donald Trump’s campaign to be US President from March 2010, then follows his Presidency until March 2018.

This is a very readable book. The text is set out with plenty of space between the lines, so that it feels like an “easy read”. The chapters are organised by subject, often looking at policy areas in turn. It is skilfully concise. I found it a “page turner”.

It is a serious book. Scores of “deep background” interviews of White House insiders were carefully transcribed and used. There are 28 pages of sources quoted. As Clive James once quipped:

Woodward checks his facts until they weep with boredom.

This is not a rag-bag collection of tales told out of school about Trump. It is a sober record of Trump’s campaign and the first fifteen months of his presidency. Woodward describes the White House process of policy evolution in such depth that the reader emerges with a better understanding of the Trump presidency.

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How to break through when you have little money and a well-established opponent

One of the stories of the week has been the stunning victory of 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the primary in New York’s 14th district.

She unseated an incumbent 10 term senior congressman, Joe Crowley, the fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. He certainly seems to have been very complacent.

How did she do it, and what can we as Liberal Democrats learn from this? The New York Times has an analysis of why she won:

She flipped the levers of power he was supposed to have — his status as a local party boss and his

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The first live press conference – 57 years ago today

Today is the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s first live TV press conference. It was held five days after his inauguration as President of the United States. He clearly wanted to start as he intended to continue – the people’s president.

This news conference, in 1961, was unprecedented. Unedited, and with no time delay, it was JFK’s way of speaking directly to the American people. You can listen to the broadcast here, and read the transcript in full.

JFK opens with a word about the upcoming meetings in Geneva which would review the atomic test ban. He follows with an update on the famine in the Congo and how the U.S. will support aid relief efforts. JFK finishes with the good news of the release of two Air Force crewman detained by the Soviets.

In our current climate of fake news, the candour of JFK’s statements is refreshing. He is clearly trying to connect with the U.S. populace. His answers to the press questions which follow his opening statement show a quick wit and mastery of detail.

QUESTION: Does your Administration plan to take any steps to solve the problem in Fayette County, Tennessee, where tenant farmers have been evicted from their homes because they voted last November, and must now live in tents?

THE PRESIDENT: The Congress, of course, enacted legislation which placed very clearly responsibility on the Executive Branch to protect the right of voting. I supported that legislation. I am extremely interested in making sure that every American is given the right to cast his vote without prejudice to his rights as a citizen, and therefore I can state that this Administration will pursue the problem of providing that protection, with all vigor.

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Book review: Fire, fury and landmark transparency in the White House


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There’s a queue for the doorstopper version of “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. So on the day of the book’s release last week, I got the Kindle version. I then decided to make my life easier by opting for a free trial of “Audible“. So, I have listened to two-thirds of the audio version of the book, read beautifully by the author and Holter Graham. I am sorry that I have not yet finished the book but I admit I am finding the latter half of it rather heavy going.

There’s no doubt though, that this book is a good read. Or in my case a good listen.

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The Reagan Show – an absorbing portrait of a master communicator in the White House

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The Reagan Show is a CNN Films movie released in the UK earlier this month. After showing in a few cinemas it is now available on iTunes, Sky, Amazon, GooglePlay and YouTube.

The film uses the mountain of archive “behind-the-scenes” and in-front-of-the-scenes footage recorded during the Ronald Reagan Presidency. There are some great clips and there is a particularly compelling portrait of his work with Mikhail Gorbachev to eventually sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. We’re reminded that Gorbachev too was a showman, and that the two struck up quite a close working friendship.

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The black slave whose failed bid for freedom led to the American Civil War

This is the ninth of my posts based on a recent tour of the eastern half of the USA. I visited a number of sites relevant to African American history. To mark Black History Month, I am relating some of the things I saw, in the order I saw them.

I enjoyed a visit to the wonderful US Capitol “Visitor Center”. At presumably astronomical expense, a fantastic underground visitors’ entrance has been built on the east side of the Capitol. You enter it and are taken on a tour of the US Capitol where you go up inside the centre of the building.

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Donald Trump, Twitter and distraction

Compare and contrast:

Less than a month ago, on 20th January, Donald Trump took this very solemn oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States

That constitution enshrines the rights of a free press and democracy.

Last night, 4 weeks after he took above oath of office, the President of the United States, the so-called leader of the free world, someone with more power than most others on this planet of ours, tweeted this:

What had got his goat this time was coverage of his bizarre press conference when he attacked the media. It’s a pity that the media claims can’t be verified with video footage of the entire 76 minute extravaganza.

The media is there to be a pain in the backside to those in power. Part of our problem here at the moment is that much of the media is cheerleading for the government rather than putting it under pressure. The rich, Brexiteer owners of our media, in whose interests it is to be out of the scope of EU regulations, are not sufficiently challenged.

What is worrying is that anyone who challenges the wishes of the powerful is denounced as an enemy of the people. Over here, we had the Daily Fail disgracefully demonise Supreme Court judges upholding the law in that fashion. Now we have Trump dismissing any media outlet that disagrees with him in the same fashion.

Who does he think he is? Vladimir Putin?

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What next with Trump vs the Media?

The first thing I read this morning was the Twitter feed of the BBC’s James Cook who spent yesterday following Donald Trump around as he gave a speech at the CIA.

We’ve all watched enough West Wing to know how the White House’s relationship with the media works. The Press Secretary briefs the press every day and takes questions.

It looks like things are changing:

This …

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Obama slow jams the news – the coolest of the cool?

There are not many politicians who could pull this off…



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The painful dilemma at the heart of the US Republican party

To win the Republican nomination you need to be a very right wing. The Republican base who vote in primaries tend to be very right wing. The influence of the Tea Party has exacerbated this situation. So Donald Trump is doing very well in the GOP (“Grand Ol’ Party” = Republican party) polls for the 2016 Presidential nomination. The more he says that Muslims need to be tracked on a database, the border needs to be closed to them and a border wall needs to be built by Mexico, the more the Republican core adore him.

I’ve lost count of the number of times commentators have expected a “Howard Dean moment” to befall Trump. It’s not going to happen. He’s like Boris Johnson. The more he makes embarrassing comments, the more a certain constituency of people love him. He can talk himself out of any corner. – Even if he uses the verbal equivalent of a 12 bore shotgun.

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More than just a flag….

The Confederate Flag came down for the last time yesterday at the South Carolina State House.

It’s worth watching this speech below from South Carolina Representative Joseph Neal (thanks to Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire). It is a moving and dignified speech, which well explains the significance of the Confederate battle flag finally being consigned to a museum. He made the speech during the debate in the South Carolinian State legislature on the subject of the flag.

Matthew Teague writes an excellent article about the event over on the Guardian, concluding:

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A 4th July Bonus

Best wishes to all our American friends as they celebrate their special day.

We were talking amongst ourselves on the LDV team, wondering what the best way to to mark the occasion would be. We decided that it just had to be with some clips of the best programmes ever made. And the first one, suggested by Nick Thornsby,  even has tennis. After the way Mr Murray has just dragged our emotions through a mangle, that’s only appropriate.

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The Independent View: Could the USA’s November mid-term elections herald the return of the long-fabled “Liberal Hour”?

USA Flag - Some rights reserved by freefotoukThe November mid-term elections in the United States will be vital for the future of the Democratic Party, as it not only seeks to retain its control of the Senate, but possibly reclaim the House of Representatives after four years under Republican control.

If it wishes to do so, the Democrats must be clear in what it stands for in social policy, and carry out a programme of major liberal reform that fulfils the promises of hope and change that Barack Obama evoked amongst so …

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Opinion: Even if this is the end of our ‘Special Relationship’, there is no need to mourn its passing

cameron-obama-hot-dogIt’s that old classic love story. Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl become infatuated with one another. Boy leads Girl into a series of illegal wars in the Middle East. You know the rest. (In the interests of gender equality, I should point out that you are more than welcome to switch around the genders in this analogy.)

But now, this one sided relationship has a new twist. Girl has said no to the Boy’s latest attempts to lead her into another bombing campaign, and Boy is angry. Boy storms out, and …

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Alistair Carmichael and Richard Hughes from Keane tell the Independent about their friendship

Yesterday’s Independent on Sunday carried an interview with Alistair Carmichael and Richard Hughes from Keane about the friendship they developed after they met on a trip with Amnesty to try to prevent the execution of American Troy Davis in 2009. Sadly, Troy was executed in 2011.

The article captures the bright  and funny personality of one of our most popular MPs, along with his passionate opposition to the death penalty.

Richard Hughes sums him up like this:

Alistair is a passionate guy – it’s one of the things that makes him so charming. And he’s absolutely given me faith in the reason why

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Opinion: Proposed conference motion on extradition to the US

USA Flag - Some rights reserved by freefotoukIt’s that time of year when Federal Conference Reps are pestered for signatures to help get motions selected for Spring Conference and this is no exception.

Our motion concerns US-UK extradition terms and follows the conclusions of Sir Menzies Campbell’s report on the treaty recommending the introduction of the ‘forum bar’ to allow judges a greater role in deciding on extradition, and a minor amendment in the actual treaty to afford those arrested in the UK the same legal

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Opinion: US Elections – I’m not one to gloat, but….

I am still musing on what a wonderful night it was on Tuesday into Wednesday. I stayed up all night until I finally threw in the towel at 6.45am. It was a bit tedious at first, but it got really exciting at around 3am.

Over the last few weeks, I have been a very regular visitor to FiveThirtyEight, the home of Nate Silver. So, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the man’s forecasts have turned out to be right.

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Join the fun here on Tuesday #LDVUSA – Election night LIVE

We’ll be covering the US Election results night live here on Liberal Democrat Voice from 11pm on Tuesday.

You can join in by using the Twitter hashtag #LDVUSA, which will include your tweet on the scrolling page here on LDV. You’ll also be able to comment here on the screen using the Coveritlive.com tool.

There’ll be commentary from the LDV editorial team and Lib Dem bloggers throughout the night, plus updates from leading US news and commentary Twitter streams.

It’ll be a good place to …

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If Obama wins, this Republican ought, perhaps, to be top of his list of people to thank

This is John Kasich, Republican Governor of the state of Ohio, USA.

It is possible to argue, credibly (albeit amid much debate), that if Barack Obama wins re-election on November 6th, the first person he ought to thank is John Kasich.

Polls suggest that, despite the hyperventilated efforts of the Romney campaign to generate some “big mo” after the Denver debate, Obama is still ahead in vital Ohio.

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Unravelling the US election – or not, as the case may be…

There are just 16 days to go until the US Presidential election. Liberal Democrat Voice will be live-blogging the election results as they come in on the night. Hopefully, the count won’t go on as long as it did in 2000, or we might be in for a very long live blog.

I should declare, up front, that I am inveterately

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